Thursday, December 28, 2006

Sex Your Brain!

Phila gave us this interesting "sex on the brain" link to a test on the BBC website you can take. It's supposed to tell you if you think more like a man or a woman. Sadly, it is quite a biased study. Here, for your information are a few of the statements in the test which are intended to tell if you are good at systematizing or empathizing. Naturally, the first is defined as a male attribute and the second a female attribute.

Ready? The idea is to see how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements:

I really enjoy caring for other people.

I find it difficult to read and understand maps.

It is hard for me to see why some things upset people so much.

I find it easy to put myself in somebody else's shoes.

I find it easy to grasp exactly how odds work in betting.

If anyone asked me if I liked their haircut, I would reply truthfully, even if I didn't like it.

I find it difficult to learn how to programme video recorders.

I do not enjoy games that involve a high degree of strategy (e.g. chess, Risk, Games Workshop).

Other people tell me I am good at understanding how they are feeling and what they are thinking.

I can remember large amounts of information about a topic that interests me e.g. flags of the world, airline logos.

I am able to make decisions without being influenced by people's feelings.

People sometimes tell me that I have gone too far with teasing.

I know very little about the different stages of the legislation process in my country.

I usually stay emotionally detached when watching a film.

I can easily visualise how the motorways in my region link up.

I can tell if someone is masking their true emotion.

Note anything funny? Notice how the emotional questions are left mostly vague but the systematizing questions have very specific examples, examples which all have to do with male roles in the society? For example, we are gently steered to think about odds in the sense of BETTING (still largely a male hobby). Then we are told to think about the ability to remember large amounts of information and the examples are FLAGS OF THE WORLD, AIRLINE LOGOS. Then there is stuff about MOTORWAYS. And references to very specific games of risk.

It would be fairly astonishing not to find the answers biased by sex even if systematizing was an equally likely characteristic of both sexes. Now think about how those questions could be changed to make the test less biased. Why not add examples which apply to hobbies women have? For example, in the statement about remembering large amounts of information, why not add an example to collections of Barbi dolls or 1930s jewelry or embroideries? And in the empathizing questions, why not give some specific examples that might apply not only to women's traditional societal roles? Something about what a man might do when coaching children in sports, for example?

I was also annoyed to find that the tests don't pay any attention to cultural aspects in general. For example, the little summaries one gets after completing a part of the test tell us what we should believe based on evolutionary psychology theories only.

Here is the list of the experts BBC contacted, by the way:

Dr Simon Baron-Cohen
Autism Research Centre, Cambridge, UK

Dr Richard Lippa
California State University, Fullerton, USA

Dr John Manning
University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK

Prof David Perrett
University of St Andrews, St Andrews, UK

Dr Stian Reimers
University of Warwick, Coventry, UK

Notice anything odd there? If men and women think so very differently, how come is the whole test created by men?